The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


With most of the work I do, for reasons of confidentiality, I don't get to talk about it until months after I've finished and it's been published. So I was quite excited this week to find out that a big project I've been doing various bits of work for this year is now "going public" in preparation for its launch in January 2010.

It's a new English coursebook for adult learners from Macmillan, called Global. When I was originally approached last year to write some materials for an eWorkbook to accompany the pre-intermediate level, I have to admit that my first reaction was to say no. I'd been through a phase of writing a lot of companion-type materials for General English coursebooks and was a bit fed up of writing rather standard, formulaic grammar and vocab exercises on the same old topics. The editor gave me the usual spiel about how this book would be 'different', more grown-up, less cliched, and generally much more interesting to work on. But it wasn't until I saw a sample unit that I was sold on it. I'd always found a lot of coursebooks rather 'naff', aimed at a vague 'young adult' audience; not fun enough for children, too square and plodding for teenagers and rather patronising to adults. So it was very refreshing to see an English coursebook with genuinely interesting content, moving away from the usual, predictable topics and contexts. I was even more encouraged when I later discovered that David Crystal, one of my university lecturers as an undergraduate at Bangor University who first inspired me about the English language, was on board. Check out his video about Global English on YouTube.

It was quite challenging to write for - trying to keep the 'Global feel', but staying within the restrictions of the language level. I spent as much of my time online researching interesting information to include as I did actually writing. Inevitably, that meant going down lots of blind alleys, researching ideas that didn't really work out and having to come up with something different, but it was far from boring work.

I'll be really interested to see how the whole Global concept is received once it's launched in full. When you're working as part of a project, you get to be too close up to it and it's difficult to hold it at arm's length and make an objective assessment.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Great Aunt Lucy?

As a freelancer, I end up working directly or indirectly with all sorts of different people, either in-house staff at different publishers or other freelancers scattered around all over the place. A few of them I know personally, some I get to know quite well via email and others only appear as names on email lists or remain completely anonymous, having my work forwarded to them by a third party.

This afternoon, I found out that the stuff I'm working on at the moment is being edited by somebody called Lucy who's based in Peru. As I read the email, I happened to be listening to an interview with Bernard Cribbins on the radio and I couldn't help thinking of Paddington's Great Aunt Lucy in a home for retired bears in Lima, Peru!


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Empty desks

The good news is I've finally got my desks set up properly again - the picture below shows a lovely clear state which won't occur again for at least another couple of years! After a couple of fruitless trips to IKEA, I finally got a replacement leg yesterday and after lots of swearing trying to put it together and manoeuvring in a tight space, I now have my new workspace set up beautifully.
On a less positive note, I'm having to severely restrict the hours I spend sat at my new desk. Having rather overdone work over a couple of weeks, my RSI flared up again at the start of this week and everything has come to stop again. I'd been doing so well at pacing myself, sticking to just a few hours a day, but sadly, work doesn't always come in a-few-hours-a-day packages and it's all too easy to just do an extra hour or so to finish something off. I should know that I always pay for those extra hours a bit down the line, but it's just so frustrating always having to stop just as you get going. I'll learn one day ...

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Why Do We Talk?

I don't watch a huge amount of TV, but I do enjoy a good documentary. Wildlife programmes are my favourites, but I'll watch stuff about science, medicine, history, anthropology, even a bit of politics or economics if I'm in the right mood. So when my boyfriend pointed out a documentary about language on BBC2 last night - Horizon: Why Do We Talk? - it seemed worth a watch.

I did enjoy it, but I also found it enormously frustrating. It seemed to skip from one topic to another with only the most tenuous links, it confused completely separate areas of research (in particular, the two very different issues of how we physically produce speech sounds and the processing of language in the brain) and it all felt like it added up to a rather misleading picture of what we know about why - or more importantly, perhaps - how we talk. I guess it's the same though with any 'popular science' on television and I'm sure that biologists and zoologists shout at the TV during some of my favourite wildlife programmes.

I think my mood wasn't improved by the appearance of Noam Chomsky, probably my least favourite linguist, spouting his ideas about knowledge of a basic language structure being innate. I know it sounds like a perfectly reasonable idea, but after two years of studying Transformational Syntax as a Linguistics undergraduate, I came to hate Chomsky. There were frustrating hours of trying to draw tree diagrams to represent sentence structure, trying to follow endless rules about where different elements could move to, followed, in my final year, by the great man's admission that in fact there were an endless number of movement rules and his subsequent abandonment of the whole theory!

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

In words of one syllable

At the moment, I'm working on some teaching materials for elementary learners of English and I have to admit, it's a bit of a struggle. When I was teaching, I always rather dreaded lower-level classes. As I moved up the teaching ladder, I always made sure I got the more advanced classes and the trend reached its natural end when I moved into EAP teaching at university level.

So what's wrong with lower-level learners? Everyone has to start somewhere, after all. I just find the discipline of keeping my language simple and working within such a restricted range of vocabulary really frustrating. Having been a beginner language learner myself, I know that a whole hour learning and practising the names of vegetables can keep your attention, but as a teacher/writer, it just seems incredibly dull! Writing grammar and vocabulary activities is challenging enough, but coming up with an interesting, intelligent reading text at this level has me tearing my hair out!

I would usually avoid taking on writing for lower levels, but with an unexpected gap in my schedule caused by a delay in another project, this job turned up at just the right moment and I was promised would be quick and simple. ... Remind me to stick to at least intermediate and above in future!

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